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Helpers’ hardships highlighted in lecture

Hong Kong, 11 November 2021: Melville Boase called upon four decades of experience in dealing with migrant worker issues when he gave a lecture to University of Hong Kong students this week about the difficulties faced by domestic helpers in the territory.

Mel, co-founder of Boase Cohen & Collins in 1985, detailed the three core issues which cause problems for the helper community: being asked to work outside the terms of their contact; the so-called “two week” rule which stipulates helpers must leave Hong Kong within a fortnight of termination of their employment for whatever reason; and the requirement for helpers to live with their employers.

His talk, “Second Class Citizens”, also highlighted how the government fails to properly regulate employers and employment agencies, with the latter often guilty of overcharging helpers for placing them in work, and turns a blind eye to serious overcrowding in boarding houses for helpers who are between contracts. In addition, his lecture highlighted examples of discriminatory Covid-19 testing and quarantine policies.

He concluded: “When it comes to overseas workers here, including domestic helpers, there are laws on the statute but they are not enforced. Our government also has obligations under international labour conventions, but is somewhat lax in enforcing them. The result? Our 370,000 helpers, whose presence contributes so much to Hong Kong’s economy by allowing their employers to go out to work, are treated differently from the rest of us. Second class citizens, indeed.”

Mel helped set up the Mission For Migrant Workers in 1981 and has served continuously as the organisation’s Treasurer since then. While he officially retired from BC&C two years ago, both he and the firm remain strongly committed to the cause of migrant workers and ensuring they have access to justice.

The lecture formed part of a course within HKU’s Faculty of Law run by the Global Migration Legal Clinic, which was created to address labour migration abuses, human trafficking and modern slavery.

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